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THE CULTURAL CONTRADICTIONS OF MOTHERHOOD by Sharon Hays

THE CULTURAL CONTRADICTIONS OF MOTHERHOOD

By Sharon Hays

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-300-06682-1
Publisher: Yale Univ.

 A lucid, probing examination of our culture's contradictory and troubled relationship to motherhood--and how it affects mothers. Hays (Sociology and Women's Studies/Univ. of Virginia) interviewed 38 mothers from various class backgrounds. Some stayed at home, some worked; all had young children. She found that all, despite their differences, subscribed to what Hays calls the ``ideology of intensive mothering''--the belief that mothers (not fathers) should spend an enormous amount of time, physical and emotional energy, and money raising children. She critically examines the advice of three best-selling authors of books on child-rearing--T. Berry Brazelton, Benjamin Spock, and Penelope Leach--and finds that they have adopted the ideology as well. Hays provides some helpful social context, convincingly demonstrating that no one idea about mothers and children is inherently ``natural.'' In the past, she points out, children have been expendable or even demonized as bearers of original sin, not worthy of much time or emotional energy, while even today, in many cultures, raising children is the responsibility of several women and older children, not just the birth mother. Hays points out that the ideology is problematic because it perpetuates a ``double shift'' life for working women, as well as the assumption that men are incompetent at parenting and superior in the professional world--which encourages the subordination of women. It also places mothers in constant conflict with the rest of society's ostensible priorities--wealth and individual fulfillment. But she also argues perceptively that part of the reason the ideology is successful and necessary is that in placing a high value on love and self- sacrifice, it offers an alternative to selfish, materialistic market values. A thoughtful analysis of the paradoxes that surround mothering. Hays is sensitive to the emotional issues involved--and equally astute in perceiving their sociopolitical context.